1991 Subaru Oil Leak



Hi Guys, thanks for your radio show and for this forum! I have a l991 Subaru Legacy Outback that I also love. She has an oil leak which my mechanic Wa at Premier Auto Service in San Marcos, CA, (on your list of great mechanics) says is an engine gasket problem.

He also tells me that I have a cracked head gasket which is the cause for my temp gauge to continue overheating until I put coolant directly into the radiator which makes it all okay again for awhile. (I had my water pump, timing belt, thermostat, serp belts and radiator replaced trying to correct this problem. Then I found Wa who told me it is the cracked head gasket).

My question is for a second opinion:

I am on a fixed income and can’t afford to replace the engine, i.e. the cracked head gasket. Wa says I have some time – until smoke comes out my tail pipe. Does it make sense for me to pay $300 now to fix the engine gasket oil leak and get a tune up. The constant oil leak is messy and smells terrible even if I only drive 5 miles.

Thanks and Happy New Year, Genny


The problem with head gasket leaks is that they can change from relatively non-problematic to seriously problematic without warning. Right now, it sounds like the head gasket breach is causing coolant to be burned in the cylinders. As long as it stays that way, the “only” problems will be the need to keep replenishing the coolant and the likelihood of an overheating problem.

However, head gasket problems can also result in coolant leaking into the engine’s oil supply. Once that happens, bearing damage can occur fairly quickly, with the result that the engine is damaged severely. Unfortunately nobody–even the best mechanic–can tell you if the head gasket problem will become one of this nature, nor can anyone tell you when it might happen.

So–it is really a crap shoot right now. You can spend the money on the current oil leak and drive without incident as long as you keep a careful eye on both your temperature gauge and the level of coolant in the radiator, or you can spend the money on the oil leak and wind up with a ruined engine anytime after that if/when the head gasket problem results in lubrication problems for the engine. This is really a judgment call on your part, with no real way of knowing definitively which way to go with the decision.


You need to start monitoring your coolant usage and adding coolant before it gets too low. Repeatedly overheat the engine will ensure that it gets much worse very soon.

How much coolant is it using? How much oil is it leaking? What gaskets and/or seals is the oil leaking through? How many miles are on the car?

I’d be reluctant to spend much money on a 19 year old car with a blown head gasket that’s had the engine repeatedly overheated. My guess is that you’ll be trying to repair oil leaks forever without success. First it’ll be the subject gasket, then the front main seal, then the rear main seal, and on and on.

You might want to try some additive frm the parts store. They sell some that’s supposed to reduce oil leakage, as well as some that allegedly fixes blown headgaskets. A new PCV valve might help reduce the oil leakage also. But whatever you try, if you continue to not monitor the coolant the engine is doomed.